While visiting Manuel Antonio Park we discovered a treasure 10 miles East of Quepos—the Villa Vanilla Spice Plantation now known as Rainforest Spices. One of my passions is cooking so I was excited to see this farm and the process of growing and cultivating vanilla. To my surprise this 27 acre farm went well beyond traditional organic farming of vanilla. The farm boasts a rich cultural environment of epiphytes, orchids, bromeliads, tilandsias, spice trees, cocoa and medicinal plants as well as goats, chickens and cows.
The crops are grown bio-dynamically a process, the owner Henry Karcyznski, discovered through research after a blight effected his farm. In fact, he is the only demeter certified farm using bio-dynamic cultural sustainable practices. This diverse system prevents diseases and land use problems associated with single-crop agriculture.
Henry met us upon arrival and we quickly hit it off. Both Henry and my husband spent time in Jamaica and they started sharing stories. As we walked through his farm my senses were infused with visual beauty, amazing floral scents and flavors. The tour is more than just delighting the senses, even though that is a major part, it is also very educational. After walking through the epiphyte trail we saw a vanilla vine in bloom. I admit I really got excited! As I took in the sight of the beautiful blossom Henry explained once the plant blooms, there is a 24 hour window for pollination and each blossom must be hand-pollinated–a labor intensive crop.
Stimulation of your taste buds is a large part of the tour experience. Tasting is two part–on the trail and at the cabana area. As you walk along the path through the farm–you will taste leaves plucked straight from the tree each with a distinctive flavor bursting on your palate. I tasted peppercorns fresh from the tree-the heat erupting in my mouth and true cinnamon called ceylon shaved directly from a branch–the flavor surprised me both spicy and sweet. I was in sensory heaven but it doesn’t stop here.
As an alchemist Henry understands the medicinal properties of plants. He informed us on the benefits of Ceylon—true cinnamon and cautioned us on the use of cassia which has been banned in Germany—the pretty well formed cinnamon sticks that many people use. True cinnamon, or Celyon, is lighter in color and the sticks are delicate with flaky layers—more like cigar tobacco. The thick, dark sticks are cassia. Henry informed us that Ceylon is the healthy type of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is beneficial for detoxification, promotes insulin production and has very good anti-oxidant properties. As a retired nurse, I was very interested in the medicinal benefits of the plants he grew. The second part of tasting is located in a lovely cabana area called Rainforest Viewpoint. There is a bar, table and chairs to sit at. We were served Ceylon tea and desserts made from pepper, cheesecake and chocolate cookie with vanilla ice-cream made from farm fresh milk and cream from their dairy cow. The desserts are delicious prepared by their own pastry chef. I was surprised how sweet and delicious the Ceylon tea was without any added sugar. Henry steeps the Ceylon bark for 24 hours to produce this lovely tea. The recipe for Ceylon tea is printed on the package of Ceylon bark pieces available for purchase in their “Spice Shoppe.” We purchased about a Kilo of vanilla beans, extract, ground Ceylon, pepper seeds both white and black and cocoa pods.
These have made wonderful gifts for our family and friends. His vanilla is the best I have ever used. If you are anywhere near a “foodie” you will not be disappointed in this tour. It is still one of the highlights of my time in Manuel Antonio and I look forward to returning for another visit. Update: Time for another visit, the vanilla beans are getting low and the extract is long gone.
Tours are half day and available in the morning and afternoon. The tour description and driving directions can be found on his website at www.rainforestspices.com as well as informative articles. Or you may contact him directly cell: 506-8839-2721 or at the farm 506-2779-1155.